When Pat Riley replaced Josh Richardson with Jimmy Butler it was one of those Riles moves that was brilliant on one end and uh-oh on the other. With Richardson as the top dog, the Heat were never going anywhere. Richardson is a good player but not a star. He can’t carry a team offensively and it only highlighted how particularly anemic the Heat were on offense. They didn’t have elite talent and their record was based on their defensive chops, their toughness, and how gritty they were. Before Jimmy, they did it all on hustle and want-to and Erik Spoelstra genius.
Adding Jimmy Butler changed everything. Butler is a talented scorer. He has averaged at least 20 ppg for every team he’s played for the past five years, except when he was traded to the loaded Sixers and then he averaged 19 points. He’s a solid rebounder for a wing player, he moves the ball more than you think, he’s efficient, and his 3-ball is serviceable. His defense is overrated but he does give effort and he plays hard every single possession. For the past six seasons, he’s posted a PER above 20.0 and four seasons in a row his offensive rating has been over 120.
But Butler brought his baggage too. His perception as a rough rider personality grated at times. Pre-Miami he was known for throwing teammates and coaches under the bus because, as he put it, he wanted to win. It was the only thing he focused on but there is a way to win that doesn’t involve putting down teammates who don’t work as hard, are beneath you, are struggling, and/or refuse to give you the ball.
In Miami, however, all of Butler’s perceived toxicity- perceived as in outsiders lobbing their opinions- disappeared. From Day one he deferred to his younger teammates. He led them with generosity and showed little to no interest in being the biggest, baddest motherf***er in the room. What happened to you Jimmy?
“You don’t know me. You only know what I allow you to see.”
The Heat are Butler’s fourth team in four years. He got paid. Forget what you think you know, Butler was exactly who and what the Heat needed: a pure scorer. A go-to wing performer. A pressure player. A hard-nosed competitor. And he journals at least once a day. He has the Heat two wins away from a title because as tough and gritty as the Heat were, they hadn’t been able to solve the star player conundrum until now. You can scheme until your fingers turn blue but if you don’t have the talent to consistently put the ball in the hole, trouble is coming.
Butler improved another weakness of his: making players better. He incentivized Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson and played well with Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. Butler blames the media for the wrong perception, but he did Miami differently. He’s still confrontational but he’s toned a lot of the Jimmy Butler thing down. Perhaps the money mellowed him. For sure, the Miami culture is different as is the scheme and the expectations. It was a perfect fit. So much so you didn’t even notice Hassan Whiteside or Jason Richardson was missing. With Bulter on the court, Bam developed into a consistent, trusted player. Tyler Herro was confident. Duncan Robinson didn’t look like an undrafted player.
My favorite Jimmy story via Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report was that he bet friend Antonio Brown he could guard him on a fade route, a pass thrown by Russell Wilson. “I could be in debt $30,000 to him right now because I tried to guard him in the red zone and failed. Hypothetically speaking, it started at 10. He could or could not have went 3-for-3. 3 times 10 is 30. I’m just sayin’ it could have happened. Hypothetically speaking, it could have been a bad way to lose $30,000.”
Jimmy Butler thinking he was as good as Antonio Brown in a professional sport he doesn’t even participate in lets me know all I need to know. Winning the next two games, beating LeBron James and the over-hyped Lakers doesn’t scare Jimmy Butler one bit.
Nothing scares Jimmy Buckets.